Tag Archives: Tribe

Tribe Time Now Episode 15: The Power of the Stache?

Was the power of John Axford’s mustache powering the Indians bullpen last year? Is its absence this year explanation for the bullpens lackluster performance thus far? Hayden Grove and I discuss that and more on episode 15 of the Tribe Time Now podcast:

 

Topics:

  • Kipnis and batting philosophy
  • D-day/throwing in the towel: when will it happen
  • Team building philosophy: How and why were the Indians built the way they were
  • The bullpen: what is wrong this year?
  • Marlins head coaching situation: it’s effects and what would happen in Cleveland

Don’t forget to join us Saturday, June 20th at Hoopples Riverbed Cafe for our first tweet up. Information can be found here.

Tribe Time Now Weekend Update #2: Burning Down The House

In this week’s edition of Tribe Time Now Weekend Update…

Joe Coblitz (@BRBBlog) and Kevin Gall (@KGall) from Burning River Baseball discuss the Indians series versus the Twins, Nick Swisher’s speed and how the Indians can make room for Zach Walters on the roster. Can the Indians beat left-handed pitching? Did you see the Lake Count Captains home opener?:

Tribe Time Now Weekend Update #2: Burning Down The House

Tribe Bullet Points: People Are Going to Yell at Me

Welcome to Tribe Bullet Points Friday. It’s the largely incomplete and mostly un-researched account of the Cleveland Indians week. Follow me on twitter at @RailbirdJ and complain about my writing to @MTAFCleveland

  • 21.2 innings pitched, 25 strikeouts, and a downright nasty .785 WHIP. A 1.5 ERA and league leading 14.25 Strikeouts per 9. Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer are regulating on the mound for the Indians so far in the (super duper way too young to judge) 2015 season.
  • Is it T.J. House and one-pitch Zach McAllister at the back of the rotation that can’t get anybody out? Is it the bullpen gas-canning the mound in key spots? Is it injuries? The Tribe are struggling because of all of those things, but, really, just score some runs, guys.
  • Look, I’ve taken tons of flack – and will continue to, I’m sure – for putting more weight on the offense when it comes to winning games, but I’m not going to stop.2015RS
  • Maybe it’s not fair to expect the Indians to have a Top Ten team, but I don’t see anything wrong with aiming high on More Than a Fan considering Sports Illustrated set the bar. I’ll temper my expectation. I realize the top ten teams won’t average 4.86 runs per game throughout the season. I’ll use the numbers from the 2014 MLB Playoff teams.

2014RS

  • If the 2015 Indians had the chutzpah to score 4.31 runs per game, the Tribe would be 6-3 right now, instead of 3-6. Conversely, if the Indians were allowing the current top ten average, they’d be 4-5.
  • Look, the Tigers rocked the Indians in a series that saw the Tribe put up 5 runs per game, so I’m ALMOST willing to call this start to the season a wash. I’m certainly not sticking a fork in the Tribe already, in fact, I still think they’re going to be a good team in 2015. But there has to be a point in which the offense holds up its end of the bargain.

Reference:

All stats from Baseball-Reference.com. I love Baseball-Reference, and you should, too.

Tribe Bullet Points: It's Okay to Overreact

Welcome to Tribe Bullet Points Friday. It’s the largely incomplete and mostly un-researched account of the Cleveland Indians week. Follow me on twitter at @RailbirdJ and complain about my writing to @MTAFCleveland

  • Even the people talking about how terrible it is to overreact after the Home Opener are overreacting. We all have opinions, and – this is going to get crazy – I don’t think it’s out of line to criticize anytime a player (Brandon Moss) goes four games with 15 plate appearances while only gathering ONE hit. If the home opener is merely one out of 162, then don’t get mad at me if I talk about a player the same way I would midseason.

LISTEN: Tribe Time Now #9: It’s @BRBBlog Dammit – iTunes, TuneIn, RSS

  • It’s okay for people to get angry about another home opening loss.
  • It’s okay to be angry that injuries forced the team to have to use Zach McAllister as the fourth starter, even when we all know it’s better for everyone if he’s a bullpen arm.
  • It’s okay that I got so frustrated during the game that I ended up watching Jordan Spieth set a 36-hole Masters record.
  • In short, the overreacters are overreacting and the super patient fans are overreacting about the overreacters overreacting1I could have skipped the last overreacting in this sentence, but I’m watching cricket and needed to add some excitement to the morning..
  • I linked to a Terry Pluto column in the first bullet point, and It needs to be linked again. Big crowds or big wins is a chicken or the egg type argument. The Indians get a few sellouts every year, and these are essentially God sneaking behind all the people arguing about chickens and silently dropping a few eggs to get things started. The team needs to start taking advantage of these free eggs.
  • I THINK I FINALLY UNDERSTAND CRICKET! Next up; Pitbull.

Reference:

All stats from Baseball-Reference.com. I love Baseball-Reference, and you should, too.

Terry Pluto wrote a good thing.

   [ + ]

1. I could have skipped the last overreacting in this sentence, but I’m watching cricket and needed to add some excitement to the morning.

Cleveland Indians Midseason Review Part Two: The Bad and The Ugly

The All-Star break is nearly over and the Cleveland Indians are getting ready to start playing baseball again. For the Tribe the first half of the season was a rollercoaster culminating in a 47-47 record, landing them in 3rd place in the AL Central behind the Kansas City Royals (48-46) and the Detroit Tigers (53-38). The first half ended on a positive note for the Indians, as they took 2 out of 3 games against the Chicago White Sox and have won 8 out of 12 in the month of July. Nick Swisher (hitting .289 in July) and Carlos Santana (hitting .276 since the end of May) are finally starting to hit the ball better while All-Star Michael Brantley continues to be the team’s best player. Corey Kluber (9-6, 3.01 ERA) has also emerged as the team’s best starter. Despite this, the Indians still find themselves 7.5 games out of first place. At this time last year Cleveland had a 51-44 record and was only 1.5 games behind Detroit for first place in the Central. Clearly there is still some work to be done for the 2014 Indians. Picking up from yesterday, here is part two of the Cleveland Indians midseason review, this time focusing on the bad and the ugly. For part one (the good) click here.

The Bad

Masterson has been a disappointment for the Indians this season
Masterson has been a disappointment for the Indians this season

While the Indians offense at times has been maddening, they are currently ranked 7th in the league in runs scored with 417 and also have the 11th best team batting average at .255. So how does a team that scores runs at a fairly good clip (average of 4.4 runs per game) find themselves with a .500 record and in 3rd place? Poor starting pitching. Aside from Kluber the Indians starting rotation has been a mess. As a whole Tribe starters in the first half of the season (Kluber, Masterson, Bauer, Tomlin, McAllister, House, Salazar, and Carrasco) have an ERA of 4.49 while the opposition is batting .273 off them. Justin Masterson, who earlier this year was reportedly asking for a contract extension in the neighborhood of $17 million per year, is 4-6 in 19 starts with a 5.51 ERA. He’s averaging just over 5 innings per start, is second in the American League in walks (56) and leads the AL in batters hit by a pitch (11). Trevor Bauer (3-4, 3.84 ERA) and Josh Tomlin (4-6, 4.26 ERA) have been decent, pitching like end of the rotation starters, but all in all the Indians starters are a big reason why this team is in the hole that they are in. As a team the Indians have a -8 run differential (417 runs scored vs. 425 runs allowed). The 425 runs allowed doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of the starters, however as a group they have allowed 307 runs (275 earned runs) to score this year. Injuries have played a factor into this equation (McAllister and Masterson specifically) but all in all the Indians starters, outside of Kluber, haven’t been all that great.

To continue with the pitching theme, John Axford has been a disappointment this year. Brought in to fill the closer role, Axford was stripped of those duties during the month of May. Statistically Axford hasn’t been all that bad this year. In 41 appearances (37 innings pitched) he is 2-3 with a 3.41 ERA. His K/9 ratio is 10.7 and the opposition is only hitting .221 off of him. Axford’s problem seems to be similar to that of former Tribe closer’s Chris Perez, he lost his mental toughness. The Ax Man saved 8 out of 9 games through the end of April, however ninth inning dramatics and a few blown saves forced manager Terry Francona to make the switch to closer by committee with Cody Allen being the committee chairman. Not a good look for Axford, who is getting paid $4.5 million to save games (or in this case not save games) for the Indians this year.

The Ugly

s19tribee.jpgDefensively, the Indians are a train wreck. As a team they are first in the league in errors (76) and, unsurprisingly, have the worst fielding percentage of any team in the league (.979). Cleveland is on pace to commit 130 errors this season, this would be the most errors by a team since the 2011 Chicago Cubs (134). Indians pitchers have also thrown 42 wild pitches (6th most) and there have been 7 passed balls (tied for 5th most). Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera leads the Indians with 14 errors, which is good enough for third most errors in the league this year. Challenging Cabrera for the team lead is Lonnie Chisenhall with 13 errors and Yan Gomes with 11 (although the majority of his came very early in the season and he has been relatively error free since early May). Nick Swisher has also committed 9 errors. The third base and shortstop position combined has committed 36 of the team’s errors this season – offenders here include Cabrera, Chisenhall, Carlos Santana and Mike Aviles.

For the majority of the season two of the Indians heavily relied upon hitters have failed to produce much of anything. While it’s true that both Santana and Swisher are (possibly) turning things around, both were mostly bad for the Indians for most, if not all, of the first half. Santana is hitting .207 on the year. While he does have 14 home runs he was only batting .159 through the month of May. His one redeeming quality was a good on base percentage during this stretch. Currently Santana has an OBP of .349 (top 50 in the league) but a hitter with his potential hitting cleanup in the batting order needs to do more than draw walks. Nick Swisher has been a colossal letdown this year for the Indians. Injuries may be playing a small factor (suffered a hyper extended knee earlier this year) but Swisher has been pretty terrible in just about anything baseball related aside from giving high fives. This year Swisher is batting .208 with 8 home runs and 36 RBI with only a .288 on base percentage. July has treated Swisher better, hitting .289 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI (45 at bats), but in order to salvage his season he is going to have to do more than hit well in 12 games.

The Indians as a team have also played poorly on the road. This year they are 18-28 away from Progressive Field. Offensively they have been outscored 201-210 and pitchers have an ERA of 4.22 on the road (compared to 3.76 at home). While the Indians have played well so far in July they are about to go on an eleven game road trip (against Detroit, Minnesota and Kansas City) to kick off the second half of the season. If this team wants to make a playoff run in the second half they’ll need to play better on the road and it must start immediately with this road trip. Already 7.5 games back and with all 11 of the upcoming games being against teams in the division the Indians could really help (or harm) their chances.

In Conclusion

By all accounts this team has underperformed. The rotation has been awful, key players have struggled mightily offensively and defensively they are the worst team in the league. Overall they play like a team that constantly looks like they are about to turn a corner but never do. If that doesn’t change than the 2014 season will go down as a bust for the Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland Indians Midseason Review Part One: The Good

With baseball’s All-Star Weekend coming to a close the second half of the season is set to get underway on Friday. For the Cleveland Indians, the first half of the season was a roller coaster ride culminating in a somewhat disappointing 47-47 record. They are 7.5 games back of the division leading Detroit Tigers and 3.5 games behind in the AL Wild Card race. The first half of the season consisted of both a six game winning and losing streak, some unexpected surprises and a couple major letdowns. Here is part one of a two part Cleveland Indians midseason review.

The Good

Despite some preseason concerns that the Indians didn’t add much offensively (aside from David Murphy) the offense has actually been pretty good so far this year. As a team the Indians are 7th in the league in runs scored (417), 11th in batting average (.255), 10th in on base percentage (.323), 10th in slugging percentage (.397) and 13th in batting average with runners in scoring position (.252). While he has cooled off, the aforementioned David Murphy started the season off strong – batting .269 through the month of May. While he only hit .185 in June Murphy has started to pick it up again, batting .250 for the month of July. Murphy has also been reliable with runners in scoring position. On the year he is batting .362 w/RISP with 39 RBI. Yan Gomes has also been reliable for the Indians as the regular catcher. He’s hitting .261 this season with 12 home runs, 36 RBI and 37 runs scored. While he started off shaky behind the plate he has been a reliable backstop as of late, with only 2 of his 11 errors coming after May 7th.

 

Brantley All StarWhile Murphy and Gomes have been good, they haven’t been the offensive stars for the Indians this year. Those honors belong to Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley. After losing his starting third base job to Carlos Santana in Spring Training, many wrote off Lonnie. Prior to the season I hadn’t been a Chisenhall supporter, but earlier this year I wrote that losing his starting job at third might actually work in his favor since this would allow him to focus solely on batting. Whether or not this was the case isn’t important, what is important is that Lonnie has started 70 games this season (51 at third base) and appeared in 79 games. While he has made 13 errors (all coming at third base) he is hitting .328 on the season with 9 home runs, 41 RBI and 39 runs scored. While it may still be too soon for “I told you so’s” yet, Lonnie appears to be on the right track to realizing his offensive potential. Speaking of realizing potential, Michael Brantley has elevated his game to another level this year. The lone Tribe All-Star (aside from Terry Francona), Brantley is hitting .322 on the year with 15 home runs (career high), 63 RBI, 63 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. This year Brantley has hit well against righties (.343) and lefties (.275), with no outs (.318), with one out (.358), with two outs (.289) with runners in scoring position (.360), w/RISP and two outs (.278) and in basically every other situation that is possible. He’s also only made one error in the outfield. Michael Brantley has easily been the Indians best player in 2014 and, while he probably won’t win it, should be in the conversation for the American League MVP award.

The Indians pitching staff has also had a few bright spots. All-Star snub Corey Kluber has been the Indians most reliable starter this year. In 20 starts he is 9-6 (the only Tribe starter with a winning record) with a 3.01 ERA. In 131.2 innings of work Kluber has struck out 142 batters and only walked 32. He has a 1.20 WHIP and the opposition is batting .251 off of him this season. He hasn’t been perfect all year and he isn’t a Cy Young candidate, but Kluber has been the MVP of the Indians starting rotation this year.

The Indians bullpen has generally been good this season. Tribe relievers have a collective ERA of 3.08 (8th in the league), have struck out 304 batters (3rd), have a WHIP of 1.25 (9th) and the opposition is only batting .230 against them (8th). All of these numbers come despite being third in the league in innings pitched (309.1). Notably, Cody Allen has been lights out for the Indians this year. In 46 appearances (41.2 innings pitched) Allen owns a 2.16 ERA. He’s struck out 55 batters and only walked 16 while the opposition is batting a measly .194 against him. Allen also has 12 saves in 13 opportunities. Less talked about, Bryan Shaw has been almost as good as Allen. In 45 appearances (43.1 innings pitched) Shaw has a 2.70 ERA. He has stuck out 44 and walked 26 while the opposition is only batting .230 off of Shaw. Lastly, credit should be given when credit is due. While Carlos Carrasco was a nightmare as a starter he has been extremely reliable out of the bullpen. In 19 appearances as a reliever (33.1 innings pitched) Carrasco has a 1.62 ERA. He has stuck out 31 batters while only walking 6 and has a WHIP of 0.84.

While the Indians overall might be frustrating to watch this year, especially considering their .500 record, they’ve played extremely well at Progressive Field. They are 29-19 and have the 6th best batting average in the league (.266) at home.

While they have underperformed so far, the Indians are 8-4 and haven’t lost a series in the month of July so far this year. Key players struggling early in the year have started to show signs of life. After a dreadful start, Carlos Santana has been showing some pop in his bat. Nick Swisher is also batting .289 in the month of July. Whether or not this is an anomaly will only be determined by time.

Click here for part two of the Cleveland Indians midseason review: the bad and the ugly.

The Tribe is Creepin' On Ah Come Up

Some call it comeuppance and some call it getting a pound of flesh. In baseball, more so than most other things in the world, things have a way of evening themselves out; of course, the timing isn’t always the way we’d like to think it should be. Now think about the Cleveland Indians since Terry Francona has assumed the helm, and remember that they needed every one of those 92 wins in 2013. Technically, two more wins would have given them a Central Division title, though we know Detroit collected their $200 and stopped on “Go” last September. In that same breath, two fewer victories, whether you subtract a game or two from that four-game sweep over Oakland last May or any of those games with Chicago in September they had no business winning, would have put the Tribe in a mad dash for tee times as the Major League Baseball post-season commenced last October.

Glancing at the calendar, I see it’s June and we can hardly call this season new at this point, but what goes around, comes around for the Cleveland Indians. After enjoying a 17-2 season series against the White Sox, a comedy of righteous moments that literally took words out of White Sox play-by-play personality Ken “Hawk” Harrelson’s mouth on several occasions. Now, taking 17 of 19 from anyone other than Houston involves a good share of favorable bounces, like the divine intervention that gave them the double-header sweep at “New Comiskey” on June 28th last year. In Game 1, we were all disappointed to see Trevor Bauer fail to get three outs in the first inning of a start, putting the Tribe in a 5-0 hole before batting in the top of the second inning; response runs were there for the taking, however, and after evening things up in the next frame, the Tribe would cruise to 19-8 victory. The night-cap was all White Sox and this twinbill was destined for a split until the away team put up 4 runs on 4 hits in the top of the ninth off Chicago closer Addison Reed for a 9-8 win. Downing the south-siders was just how it went in 2013; Jason Giambi had two walk-off bombs against Chicago in a year that he did little else on the stat sheet.

Thus far, it’s been a different story when it comes to Robin Ventura’s squad and the Braves of the Cuyahoga. While I personally don’t care for those that dismiss teams that are strong in the 1-run games as teams that should regress back to the mean, you have to admit four walk-off wins in nine home games opens the door for the credit to go to Lady Luck, but you can counter that by pointing out the back end bullpen is a big part of the game. The Indians know it all too well, having dropped two in walk-off fashion on the South Side already this season, and a third at home, where John Axford yielded three runs in the ninth, instead of locking down a 3-1 victory. Through 10 games, the upstart White Sox have taken 7 of 10 from the Indians, and sit in second place in the division, one half game above the Tribe, who trail division-leading Detroit by just 3 games. Better the standings look like this in early June, rather than early October.

Speaking of October, the Oakland Athletics have found themselves on the dance-floor in each of the last two seasons, and appear to be on their way back this season. I know it’s simple, but success comes in winning more games than you lose, and the A’s did that, turning out Win-Loss records of .500 or better against all but three of their opponents a year ago; they dropped 11 of 19 against Seattle, despite outscoring them by 5 runs on the season, and went 2-5 against the Orioles and the Indians. They were swept in Cleveland last May, on the strength of some solid starting pitching (the Cleveland starter got the win in each game), but also with the benefit of the doubt; an Adam Rosales ninth inning double that obviously cleared the threshold for home run somehow could not be upgraded with the aid of replay and Rosales was eventually stranded on third base when Chris Perez saved a 4-3 win for the Tribe. Oakland did bounce back in August, taking 2 of 3 from the slumping Indians at the Coliseum on the East Bay, but could only salvage 2 wins in 7 tries.

You might say Bob Melvin’s squad went out and got their pound of flesh, when it came avenging their dismal showing against the Tribe in 2013, being in the clubhouse with a 4-2 season-series win over the Tribe. It looked like it might be more of the same after the Indians took 2 of 3 in the season-opening series, with former Indians southpaw Scott Kazmir salvaging the only victory the A’s could manage to get on the west coast, but they responded to last season’s 4-game sweep at Progressive Field by taking all three games at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. In the six games, Oakland outscored the Indians 40 to 15. Through 60 games in 2014, the A’s have outscored their opponents by 120 runs and sit 14 games over .500. The Indians, on the other hand, are in the red on run differential to-date, despite breaking even in the win column.

On the bright side, there is a flip side to this coin. Some might say this exposed the Indians for what they really were a season ago, a team that could beat up on the bums and didn’t belong in the same ballpark with the real contenders, but they stunk against the other playoff qualifiers in 2013. In seven games with the eventual World Champs, Francona’s former team took six. They were 2-4 against Tampa Bay and 4-15 against Detroit, who ended up just one game better than the Indians in the Central Division standings, a fact that needs to be qualified (again), since Jim Leyland shut the team down for a meaningless series in Miami to end the regular season. Being taken behind the woodshed by the contenders, thus exposing the Tribe as “pretenders”, provided some balance in the grand scheme, essentially canceling out their mastery of the American League bottom-feeders.

We probably didn’t think about it too much, as it was happening with the Red Sox, given the Red Sox were so emotionally charged when they came to Cleveland in April, on literally the day of the Boston Marathon tragedy. The one they call Tito would only get one win in seven tries against the organization he once to led to their first title in 86 years, when his lineup torched Ryan Dempster, Clayton Mortensen, and Alex Wilson for 12 runs in a 12-3 win at Fenway. As far as bouncing back is concerned, the sample size is a little small and we really have no idea what to make of the 2014 Red Sox, but they just completed a 3-game series sweep of Big Papi and company, which has to be a huge weight off the shoulders of Francona, whether he admits it or not.  Let’s also consider how many good things happened, as it pertained to confidence going forward in the series that ended with Asdrubal Cabrera’s walk-off home run to secure the sweep on Wednesday night (Thursday morning, to be technical).

asdrubalwalkoff

Then, you have Detroit, the team that knocks the Indians off their pedestal anytime they’ve gotten a little momentum in recent years. I’m sure most of us have not forgotten how quickly the 2011 came out of the gates, starting 30-15, an amazing run that included 3-game sweep of the Tigers, two of those wins coming in the form of walk-offs. Well, the next time the two teams met in June, the Tigers took two of three, knocking the Indians down to 36-31 and into second place in the division. In August of that year, the Tribe took a series at home, putting them within 3 games of Detroit’s divsion lead, but the Tigers won the last 10 matchups that year, and thoughts of the post-season were laughable by season’s end.

A year later, in 2012, it was a lot more of the same. Hell, the stat sheet shows the Tribe took the season series 10-8, but it comes down to the team from the Motor City killing their spirits. They were still outscored by 15 runs over the course of 18 games. They won 7 of the first 9, including a 5-3 win on July 26th that had some fools believing there was still life in this club. Of course, you can’t solely blame the Tigers for the 11 game losing streak that followed that inspiring win, though they were responsible for losses 7, 8, and 9. They’d pull out a couple more, and even scored one last walk-off win against Jose Valverde (aka Papa Grande) in September, you know, for old time’s sake. But much like [SPOILER ALERT] Tessio in Part I, the Indians and Manny Acta were already dead.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d30Y0n1nDH4

Well, that wasn’t a depressing walk down memory lane or anything! Let’s bring it back to the present-day, and though we have learned to taper our emotions after early-season success, the clubhouse had to have been buzzing at the comeuppance that came with sweeping the Tigers at home last month, and the balk-off could really be seen as the exclamation point. Again, we look at our calendar and we know that it’s early, that this 4-to-1 advantage the Tribe currently holds over the Tigers could easily be 5-14 by season’s end, a la last year, but things feel different this year for some reason. Perhaps we’ve already seen the woes this team inevitably experiences every year since Dick Jacobs family name was taken off the ballpark’s marquee.

They didn’t get to 30-30 by starting 30-15, but from 24-30 (their low-water mark). They’ve shown they can beat Detroit and they can beat Boston, and it’s too early to think about whether or not they can beat San Francisco; they’re 0-3 this season and 0-6 in their last six tries, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Of course, if they don’t cross that bridge, they are only 2-4 against the team that shares the bay, so there are multiple pounds of flesh to be had in Northern California, come October, I suppose.

That’s a concern for another time, of course, but the Indians were left for dead just a few weeks back and now, to quote everyone second favorite Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony album, they are creepin’ on a come up. So, to all you busters out there, beware!

Balk-ing Home with Hammy

Well, the secret is out, but knowing that the Tom Hamilton walk-off call, be it a home run call or anything a little Hollywood, is almost an unparalleled experience, especially if you’re a Tribe fan. Being off the reservation, or should I just say “out-of-market”, keeping up with the Tribe involves a financial decision each spring.

hamilton-tribe-booth-2009-ccjpg-b1fa14f41cbea61c

 

For years, I’ve shelled out the extra cash for DirecTV to add the MLB Extra Innings package to my already outrageous monthly invoice, but I made the leap to the more feature-rich MLB.tv Premium a few years back. With other sports offering broadband and mobile packages, in conjunction with the cable/satellite add-on, Major League Baseball was once again behind the times, or so I thought. Extra Innings only served its purpose when I was home, whereas the online service offered some flexibility on the go. One of those services made available was the radio call of all the games, with your choice of the home or away announcer and the Spanish crew, when applicable.

It doesn’t matter if I’m at the office, stuck in commuter traffic, or 1500 miles from home; if the Tribe is playing, I can listen to Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus on the audio call. The exception to that, of course, is when I’m 35,000 feet above the ground, when I’m without broadband or mobile data service, as I was yesterday, en route to Chicago. To take soften the blow of Chi-town’s swamp-like humidity, I put the headphones on, and let the Voice of the Cleveland Indians take me home, in more ways than one, with an all-important, if not extremely unlikely, series sweep of the Detroit Tigers hanging in the balance.

To reset my perspective, the At Bat app, the one that drives MLB.tv and the bonus audio feeds, sends me an alert that the game is tied at 7 after Detroit added two in the fifth. I paused; seven runs thru 5 for the Braves of the Cuyahoga, but I thought Scherzer was on the bump for the Tigers! That was encouraging for this enigma of an offense that Terry Francona has marched out there, this far in 2014, but it doesn’t matter if you score 20, if you lose 21-20. By the time I was back on the grid, with “Hammy” and “Rosey” in my ear, it sounded as though a bad day from Scherzer wasn’t going to sink the Tigers, who now led 9-7, but David Murphy had no concerns about their backs being against the wall with one on and one out in the ninth.

“A swing and a long drive, deep right center…this ball is…”

GONE! I’ve got no video to go on, hence nothing analytical to add, just the raw emotion of a Missouri native-turned-Cleveland fan at heart in Tom Hamilton. The Detroit closer’s name was Joe, but you could call him Blown Save Nathan after that shot. Out in the visitor’s bullpen, I can only imagine Al Albuquerque thinking, ‘I know this feeling,’ having served up a game-winning bomb to Michael Brantley in the first game of this series.

The celebration didn’t last long, as theme for 2014 continued with the Indians pitching staff surrendering a response run; this potential back-breaking smash came off the bat of Alex Avila after a solid two and two-thirds of solid relief work from usual starter Josh Tomlin. Alex Avila! Must it always be the nobodies, like JD Martinez, Don Kelly, and Avila that punish Indians pitching? Well, in this case, maybe it did, considering Miguel Cabrera got the “Bye Felicia”, as Keith Olbermann would (and actually did) say, in the sixth. However, they still had the sizzling hot Victor Martinez and seemingly, regardless of early 3 games to 1 advantage Cleveland technically has on the Tigers in 2014, the Indians number.

Anyway, Tomlin managed to freeze Danny Worth on strike three to end the 13th, but with Mike Aviles, Michael Bourn, and Asdrubal Cabrera due up, the Indians had work to do in the home-half of the frame. Down in the count against Phil Coke, Aviles hit one towards the hole at short that Worth could quite squeeze in the glove, and stood on first, representing the tying-run. Bourn, who according to Hamilton, is not the best sacrifice bunter the game has ever seen, laid one down the third base line so poetically that a radio listener may have ascertained scholars would talk about and praise for years. He was thrown out at first, and as my late-night viewing of Olbermann would reveal, he probably shouldn’t have been. Whatever, no need for Hammy to torch a guy with bad hammies in this situation.

Asdrubal Cabrera would be next, and Coke put the 2-1 pitch into his knee cap; the words from the WTAM call left me to wonder if Cabrera would be able to finish the season, let alone the game. Only Yan Games remained on the bench, not exactly your ideal pinch-runner, so after a few minutes, the Indians shortstop limped to first as the potential game-winning run. That meant one out and a runner in scoring position for Ben Maller’s favorite player to be named later against the Detroit southpaw. Left-on-right, left-on-left, it doesn’t matter for Michael Brantley, who delivered with a ground ball to the left side, which Aviles legged out from second to tie the game at 10 apiece.

No sooner than Gene Lamont, assuming the skipper role from Brad Asumus, who got the heave-ho in the Cabrera aftermath, summoned Monday’s goat Alburquerque from the ‘pen, did Terry Francona call Justin Sellers back to the dugout. Now, it was time for Yan Gomes to step into the right-handed batters box against the right-hander. Albuquerque tried two sliders, which went wide with no chase from Gomes, and then stopped the charade and put the Tribe’s usual starting catcher on first to load them up from former-Tiger Ryan Raburn.

It all came down to this at-bat, Raburn stepped in, and the strangest thing happened next. Alburquerque flinched!

“And a balk! Ballgame! How about that! WE NOW HAVE SEEN EVERYTHING! A walk-off balk! Unbelievable, Cabrera scores the winner on a walk-off balk!”

I am not sure it’s possible to transcribe any part of Hamilton’s note-worthy calls without the over-use of exclamation points. Happy to spend my Wednesday afternoon with you, Tom. Happy to be an Indians fan, like everyone back in Cleveland. Happy to have the option to listen to radio call from Chicago.

AP TIGERS INDIANS BASEBALL S BBA USA OH

11-10, Tribe wins! What a game, even the limited parts I caught; I sincerely hope it springboards us into “What a season!” mode. All in all, I’m quite content with the balk-off.  A win is a win.

The 216: Your 2014 World Champion Cleveland Indians

Even when I feel pretty good about Cleveland, I don’t generally allow myself to dream.  You see, it’s hope that tears us down the most; it’s hope that helps general levels of disappointment manifest itself into an “Only in Cleveland” (OIC) level stomach punch.  It’s being three outs away from a World Series win or four wins from being NBA Champions that sets us all up for devastating heartbreak when it inevitably crumbles before our very eyes.  It’s so much easier to expect the disappointment, then be surprised when it’s all over and destiny has run out of ways to take it away from us; of course, for most of us, the Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians have managed to astonish us like that.

 

Maybe, none of them ever will.  Maybe, it’s not in the cards.  Maybe, real life needs an unscripted version of the Washington Generals and a region of loyal fans that literally expects nothing good to ever come their way.  But, maybe it doesn’t have to be like that.  Maybe, someday we’ll have exhausted all of the excuses, run out of ways to lose in such calamitous ways, and our great city can be defined by its winning ways, even if it’s just one team for one season.  Like the 1908 Cubs or 1964 Cleveland Browns, the joy of celebrating a World Champion has a shelf life, and soon enough it doesn’t add up to a hill beans in the long run, but as Frank Drebin said, “This is our hill, and these are our beans.”

The truth is, this team isn’t going to be the favorite of many, if any, to win the American League Central Division, let alone the World Series, as they break camp this weekend.  On paper, there are holes all over the Indians prospects to defeat a pretty good National League team four times in October, and I’m sure the fine people in the state of Nevada will happily take money from anyone who thinks the Tribe is worth taking a flyer on this season.  Kenny Lofton doesn’t even believe this was a playoff team last year; we haven’t received Kenny’s dissertation on the validity of the moon landing or the reality of the blaze on the Cuyahoga River, but stand by for any developments.  A lot of people do believe the 2013 Indians were a playoff team, but still remain hesitant to reveal any optimism about “Unfinished Business” when they consider what’s been subtracted from a team that needed to win 10 straight just to get on the dance floor.

 

The easiest way to address the questions about what constitutes a “playoff team” in this day and age, is just to follow the advice of Jake Taylor and “Win the whole fucking thing.”  Wouldn’t that force Lofton and fellow naysayer of the 1-game playoff teams, Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo to admit the Indians made the playoffs, regardless of how they qualified?  I imagine we wouldn’t have any concern with splitting hairs over such nonsense if this team can make the 1948 Indians a little less relevant in the grand scheme, but the OIC factor leads me to believe there’s going to be some type of ridiculous string attached.

 

Had they managed to win one more game against Boston in 2007 and bested Colorado in a best-of-seven, how much do you want to bet that “they” wouldn’t let us enjoy it?  It would have been because of the bug game or because Schilling’s sock wasn’t bloody enough.  It would have been because the National League stunk or any other variety reason the wet blankets could discourage those who are “Happy In Cleveland” (#HappyInCLE).  For those who took a liking to Ohio State football circa 2002-2003, you have an intimate familiarity with the wet blankets not letting you have that title, and “they” will never let you have that one under any circumstances.

 

Here’s to 2014 and a title for our city to have and to hold, until we all grow old.

Two Things About 2014

They Have to Win Now

 

It’s not because they’re due, and it’s not because we’re so desperate for it to happen.  It’s not because the stars are aligned so perfectly, but I don’t think it would hurt if they did so, coincidentally.  It’s because the window is wide open at the moment.  This is the last year this group is going to be together, and while they don’t need to be great, they need to be good or they will cease to exist as a group made up of its current parts.  Mark Shapiro would never fire Terry Francona, but how long do you think Tito is going stick around if it turns to garbage?  At that point, doesn’t the Dolan family realize they’ve opened the checkbook and brought in the best personnel, on and off the field, and that this regime couldn’t make it work, then find themselves forced to do a thorough house-cleaning?

 

Photo credit: Cleveland.com

 

I think those are both difficult questions to ask, let alone answer, if you’re really asking them.  They were meant to be rhetorical, but Francona has too many miles on him to start from scratch the way Eric Wedge and Manny Acta had to.  Maybe Shapiro would tell Tito, ‘Thanks for the memories, but we want to go in a different direction,’ but I’m almost positive that Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, and Francona’s last day with the Indians will coincide.  That would be the logical conclusion, but that’s just me caught up in the mindset that things will end badly.  Of course, as was the case in Boston, things can end badly, even after they go incredibly well.

 

The manager is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit a large piece, and one piece that might raise some questions about how much of a role the Tigers change at the helm is going to affect this quest.  It comes down to who you can get on the field and what you can do with them.  Nick Swisher might have a few more 20-25 home run seasons in him, and we saw at least one season like that, though most would say he had a discouraging year in 2013.  My guess is that he’ll be better in 2014, but may be approaching the back nine of his career, so that’s a plus that opens the window of opportunity up in the present tense, but leaves you to wonder exactly how long it’s going to stay like that.

 

If Nick Swisher was the #1 free agent that Francona was able to help reign in to Cleveland, Michael Bourn was arguably #1a, but certainly no lower than #2.  Like the energetic  Swisher, Bourn’s first season at Carnegie and Ontario was probably more bust than boom.  Bourn is an above average outfielder (at the very least) and a good base-runner, but wasn’t very efficient stealing bases last year.  I might say he was adjusting to American League pitchers and catchers, but this might be a developing problem that I’ve chosen to ignore, because it starts unraveling this tight spool of thread that is this prediction.

 

Forgive me for blowing that off as a minor cog in this whole thing, and suggest that it gets better for Michael Bourn.  He’s going to have a better year at the plate and on the base paths; as good as I think the chemistry is with this roster, I think it took Bourn some time to adapt to the craziness.  I haven’t spent a lot of time with Bourn, but I just always got the vibe that the energy level wasn’t quite his cup of tea, but winning heals most wounds.  Believe it or not, this team won.  Yes, it was due in large part to a couple of part-timers, who used the Indians to audition for the real jobs that they began this year, but with the subtracted assets, we should also consider the subtracted liabilities.

 

As briefly as possible, I’d like to remind everyone that Chris Perez was a problem.  Forget his dealings with the United States Postal Service, we know that’s a tough crowd, and just look at what happened on the field and in the clubhouse.  It’s worth noting, when he had his stuff moving, he was fierce, but we’re left with too many memories of things either not going well or not going as well as the should have in the ninth inning of too many games last season.  If not for that, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal that Chris refused to talk to the media because of Paul Hoynes and Sheldon Oecker, but his teammates had to speak to his mistakes.  In other words, he left hung them out to dry.

 

As far as shunning the beat is concerned, that’s pathetic.  Neither one of those veteran writers had any interest in unnecessarily smearing Perez, but they had to ask the right questions, and they also had to write the truth.  If Perez wanted a better truth, he should have helped write more uplifting coverage of himself, with a better performance on the field.  Maybe that’s unfair; my ERA would be in the high 40’s if you asked me to do what Perez did well part of the time.  Anyway, no hard feelings toward Perez, but a mutual parting of ways between the now-Dodger reliever and the Tribe seemed appropriate to the advancement of the best interest of both parties.

 

Because All Else is So Uncertain

 

We alluded to the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who pretty much wrote the thesis on what to do in a walk year to get paid.  Maybe it’s real, and maybe Mickey Callaway is the Jesus of pitching coaches.  Either way, it speaks well to the way the Indians evaluate talent, going back to prospects for Jimenez deal in 2011 and even the low-risk deal they gave Kazmir a year ago, after he’d been out of Major League Baseball for a season, the Indians are got something out of these former top-of-the-rotation guys that they hadn’t been able to get from the likes of Jeremy Sowers or David Huff, a couple of their first-round picks.  Even those dismissed via that questionable deal at the time haven’t offered much of anything at the big league level yet, and the clock is starting to tick.

 

Of course, the clock is ticking for everyone.  The Indians have to be well aware of it, as they’ll likely head to Oakland with no new deals in place for Justin Masterson and Jason Kipnis, meaning this will be Masterson’s season with the Tribe, whether there’s a parade or not, and Kipnis could very well play himself out of the Dolan’s price range.  There’s a lot of Indians middle-infield talent in the minor league pipeline, but the timing may not coincide properly, so you could be looking at Jack Hannahan type of place-holder in Kipnis’s place, but that’s not an immediate concern in the next year or two, though locking him up would be wise, if affordable.  Affordable is something that Masterson, far and away the ace of this staff, if not a legitimate ace on a more universal plane, will not be.  Chances are, regardless of whatever was leaked from the negotiations, he probably wasn’t affordable during the talks this month.

 

I’m not sure Years 3 and 4 of Swisher and Bourn are necessarily in the budget if things don’t come together in 2014.  If you need precedent, see what happens to the Indians in 2006 and 2008 after some serious flirtation with success in prior years.  I could recap, but I would just make myself sad.  In fact, I’m probably making everyone sad in mentioning it.  I’m not saying they can’t win without those two, but Cleveland lacks the proper curb appeal to bring free agents of their caliber to town without some extenuating circumstances.  I have a hard time believing they’ll hit the lottery with another Terry Francona type as the skipper, but through my half-full glass, I see Sandy Alomar Jr. in a legitimate protégé-becomes-the-master scenario, a la Mike Matheny.

 

Still, it’s a stretch to say this isn’t as good as it gets.  Tomorrow is a giant question mark for Indians baseball, if they even continue to be the Indians or reside in Northeast Ohio for the long term.  Both issues are probably can of worms that we need not open in this particular space.

 

One World Champion

 

Photo credit: AP

I don’t know how everyone looks at Terry Francona, which is to say I don’t how anyone looks at the Tribe’s current manager and thinks any alternative would have been better.  I know, especially after the disaster that was Mike Holmgren in Berea, that fans had their reasons for being skeptical about Tito’s World Championship pedigree, but I think it’s been obvious that Francona has nothing in common with anyone that’s been associated with the expansion outfit the NFL awarded Cleveland in 1999.  I mean, Terry Francona is obviously not Bill Cowher, but the commonality ends there.

 

He’s helped this team build its core off the field, with his name alone, and also a lunch with some Columbus-types.  He’s put together an outstanding staff to carry out his mission, and never underestimate the value of a general’s ability to identify the best lieutenants.  On a side note, think about Mike Scioscia’s staff that included eventual Major League managers Bud Black, Ron Roenicke, and Joe Maddon.  Think about Alomar’s plan with Lou Marson, Carlos Santana, and a player whose success has opened the door for the season’s biggest subplot, Yan Gomes.  They traded an above-average reliever for the services of Gomes and utility infielder Mike Avilies, by far the best deal Chris Antonetti has to his name, considering Gomes was good enough to become the everyday catcher, giving them a little bit of Marson’s defense and a bat good enough to allow for Santana to shed the catcher’s gear, at least on a regular basis.

 

Look, it’s not like the man doesn’t come with his own question marks.  Considering his demise in Boston with a fun team and few rules, you have to wonder if his reliance on veteran leadership might back-fire.  How about his loyalty to certain veterans, which is a major sticking point for those of us who can’t justify Jason Giabmi’s spot on the roster for the sake of his clubhouse presence?  He insists these guys go hard every step of the way, which I question, but it proves they’ll eat lima beans if he asks them to eat lima beans.

 

Nick Swisher has a World Series ring, but Francona has two; I know it’s easy to dismiss the individual’s value on Goliath-like teams, but you can’t tell anyone that neither played a significant part in bringing home a winner, nine-digit payrolls or not.  When the speculation of the hire began, Ryan Isley wrote a good piece about how Francona’s past relationship with the powers-that-be would continue to be a crutch, and that had to be legitimate concern.  Call it shell-shock from the broken promises that came from the Holmgren Era, but I believe 2013 should have annihilated that concept, virtually upon arrival.

 

Winning it all with two different clubs is something that no active manager has done, now that Tony LaRussa has moved on, so it’s a tall order for Francona to get back there, but you would be foolish that anything short of that is the goal.  Bruce Bochy got the Padres there in 1998, before winning two recently with San Francisco.  Jim Leyland won one in the late-90s and has gotten Detroit there twice, but has chosen a life of smoking Pall Mall non-filters and yelling at small children over chasing another ring.  Francona’s quest for a third ring is a journey to some uncharted waters, but I’d consider it far from something that can’t be done.

 

Six Buzz Killington-isms

Detroit

 

At least we’re not Detroit, right?  To keep it on the diamond, we’ll forget about the Red Wings, Pistons, and the endless collection of championship trophies the Motor City has to their name in the winter sports.  For some balance, we’ll spare our friends in Michigan mention of their equally inept NFL franchise.  Here’s the thing, unless you remember 1984, is there much of a difference between the Indians and Tigers from a macro view?  Think about it; both had dominant runs and a couple of legitimate chances to win it all, only to come up short when you would have classified them as favorites.

 

That would matter if we were talking about history, not current events.  Currently, Detroit may have reached their peak, so let’s see if they find a plateau at the top or slide down the back side of the hill.  Numbers can be deceiving sometimes, but you really can take the Tigers’ dominance over the Tribe last season at face value.  They beat the Indians in every way imaginable; it was de-moralizing, and I’m saying that from the couch.  It took a couple of at-bats, but Miguel Cabrera went from looking positively lost against Danny Salazar to taking the Cleveland phenom and his team out of the win column with an opposite field home run.

 

Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez took their whacks at Indians pitching too, but the worst part was getting beat by the likes of Don Kelly and Alex Avila.  It never mattered; Detroit just had an answer for masterful pitching and an abundance of offense.  For the third year in a row, the Tigers refused to run away with the division, and the Indians stuck around a little bit longer than Manny Acta could ever motivate them to do, but one number is deceiving, the one game that separated first and second place in the American League Central Division.

 

Even Tito would tell you that Detroit shut it down in the regular season as soon as they had it locked up.  Kudos to the Indians for winning ten in a row to keep it interesting, but Leyland and his team had little interest in winning any of the games in the team’s final series in Miami to end the season.  They’ll have plenty of interest in feasting on the Indians and anyone else on the slate early, but the wins may not come so easy at Comerica this season.

 

Max Scherzer has two different color eyes and a Cy Young Award, which he’ll have plenty of time to shine on Opening Day since Brad Ausmus has decided Justin Verlander gets the ball.  In reality, he’s earned it, and the fact that the reigning Cy Young winner is deferring his Opening Day start suggests just how good the Tigers are at the top of the rotation.  Is there real depth there, considering Rick Smith decided it was time to gamble on Drew Smyly to replace Doug Fister, and you never know what type of Rick Porcello you’re going to get, no matter how well Anibal Sanchez pitches.

 

There’s no question there’s a “Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain” element to the pitching staff, but Detroit is built for a slug-fest.  Fortunately, you’re not going to see Ian Kinsler replace Fielder’s power, and you lose something in the batting order with Jose Iglesias replacing Jhonny Peralta.

 

That said, they’re still the best team on paper, and no one should expect them to lie down and die, but they are beatable.  The Tribe doesn’t stand a chance against this team on paper, but if they can get it done on the field more often than not, as they did in 2012, it could be the difference.  In any event, you wouldn’t bet your life against the team’s first Central Division title since 2007, even if you wouldn’t bet your life on it actually happening.

 

Kansas City

 

It would probably be borderline disrespectful to call the Central Division a two-horse race, and I’m not prepared to give the Royals any “nobody believes in us” motivation.  The Royals have arguably been better than the Tribe in recent years, and we’ve just been waiting for the young pitching to come up.  You might say Royals management jumped the cycle last year in offering Wil Myers for James Shields to be their ace, a short term solution.

 

You might say I’ve believed the hype, but I’ve been holding my breath for so long, waiting on this team to surge, that I’m ready to exhale.  The Royals are relevant, but there may not be much more they can do with Ned Yost.  But, just because I’d classify the Royals as more pretender than contender, that doesn’t mean the Indians can sleep on these guys, who are fully capable of playing spoilers.  However, if this team preaches “Unfinished Business” and then comes out lackadaisical against a lesser opponent, they don’t deserve to watch the World Series, let alone play in it.

 

The AL Beasts

 

While I don’t love having the eastern seaboard shoved down my throat by ESPN, I can’t deny that division in the east plays some of the best American League baseball there is.   Toronto has made a lot of noise, but I’m not sure they’ve really said anything.  The Orioles made a statement in 2012, but played themselves out of the October fun last September, so they cut the check this winter to give Buck Showalter a better crack at keeping up with the Joneses, or at least the Farrels and Maddons.

 

Speaking of cutting the check, the team that has the reputation for it no longer boasts the game’s highest payroll.  That shifted over to the left coast and belongs to the Dodgers, but the Yankees aren’t exactly on what you’d call a “fixed income”, though they are cutting back from money not being an object.  The next generation of Steinbrenner is a little more frugal and they haven’t demonstrated the baseball know-how, to boot.  Frankly, they aren’t the player they once were, but Tampa Bay has picked up the slack for that.

 

Indians fans learned all too well just what the Rays have brought to the table since dropping the “Devil” from their name.  If you throw out the attendance issues they have on Florida’s Gulf Coast, outside of Tampa-proper, Joe Maddon’s team is everything we want the Indians to be, a system full of homegrown assets netted by good drafting and selling high on young talent.  It’s probably worth mentioning that they’ve yet to win a title, but they’ve managed to stay consistent, despite noticeable roster turnover.  Someone that looks at the Indians and Rays in a vacuum would tell you the Rays “deserve” to get back to the Fall Classic more; the Indians can only overcome that by being better when the games are actually played.  That means beating Tampa head-to-head, something they were obviously unable to do it at home when it counted most; don’t think anyone on last year’s roster will soon forget that.

 

California, Here We Come

 

With Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields, the Tribe is done in Arizona, and on to California, they will play games that count, beginning Monday after a pair of exhibition games with the Padres at the University of San Diego.  The Friars will visit them at Progressive Field in a few weeks, but the Tribe won’t be playing any games at PETCO Park this summer.  They will return to the Golden State later in April to play the Angels and Giants, but after a three-game set at Dodger Stadium as we turn the calendar from June to July will be the last time the schedule dictates the Tribe goes California dreamin’ this year.

 

However, if October is in the cards for this team, and I obviously believe it is, you can be fairly sure that they will be going (going) back (back) to Cali (Cali).  The Padres figure to be better in the National League West this season, but I won’t waste anyone’s time entertaining a Padres-Indians World Series.  On the other hand, the Giants and Dodgers figure to merit a reasonable wager to win the National League West, and perhaps the entire National League.

 

Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park haven’t been too kind to the Sons of Geronimo, but Asdrubal Cabrera is the only one that remains from the team’s last trip to Chavez Ravine in 2008.  So, those inter-league games might be a solid preview for the World Series games the Tribe would have to play on the road.

 

Obviously, it’s putting the cart in front of the horse to talk about the World Series without talking about everything that stands in the way of it, especially in California, where it’s do or die time for Jerry DiPoto in Anaheim after shelling out the cash to give Scioscia a chance to bring Orange County its first World Series since 2002.  The Angels are another one of those teams that should be better, maybe even better than the Tribe, on paper, but have underachieved for one reason or another.  That’s going to fall on Scioscia, and likely DiPoto too, if they can’t get it done, whether that’s fair or not.

 

Back to the wet blankets for a moment, I can pinpoint the moment “they” would have used to take it all away from us, if they somehow would have made it happen in 2013.  How about that home run at home that would have given the A’s a chance to avoid the sweep last May?  Adam Rosales home run-turned-double off Chris Perez survived a replay challenge in a game the Indians won 4-3, instead of being prolonged had Rosales’ blast tied the game.  Considering the Indians had to win ten straight to make the post-season without having to play a 163rd or 164th regular season game, anyone has anything to say about a single game in a 162-game season actually has a leg to stand on.

 

As it turns out, Bob Melvin’s squad didn’t need that win anyway.  They won the West for the second straight year, despite what Texas was supposed to be, coming off consecutive American League pennants in 2010 and 2011.  Oakland’s problem during Billy Beane’s tenure in the front office has always been the challenge of winning a 5-game series, and it plagued them against last year, despite having the Tigers on the ropes, they lost in 5 game to Detroit in the American League Division Series.  While I have an enormous amount of respect for Boston, Tampa, and Detroit, it’s not out of line to suggest the American League’s two best teams might be showcased at O.co Coliseum in the season’s opening series.

 

The Ghosts of October’s Past

 

It’s that time of year that you’ll hear the term “chalk”, usually in reference to the most obvious picks on our NCAA Basketball brackets, but the term is universal, and in this context I’d say a St. Louis-Boston World Series re-match is possible, while certainly not inevitable.  Besides, Boston can’t be in the World Series if Cleveland is winning it.  But, both of these teams present themselves as a tough out.  You could say the Cardinals outplayed everyone on the Red Sox roster except for David Ortiz last year, but I’d consider it the Red Sox finding a way to win.

 

I could preach day and night about the emotional high the Red Sox rode all year after the Patriots Day Tragedy, but the bottom line is they were better than the Indians last year.  They were better than everyone.  I will say this though; Terry Francona will forever be connected to those Red Sox, but he won’t stand for having his former team dominating him year in and year out.  There’s nothing scientific to back that up, just speculation that a desire not to lose will result in wins and a championship.

 

If there’s any team I’d prefer the Indians avoid from the Senior Circuit, it’s the St. Louis Cardinals, the National League Champion in 2004, 2006, 2011, and 2013.  Since 1992, the Redbirds are undefeated in the World Series when they don’t play Boston.  They’re a classy organization that figures out how to win, even when they lose big money talent.

 

One thing is for sure, if the Indians encounter a team they can’t beat, they probably would strive to be like that team.  I know we would all enjoy some solid structure in all ranks of the organization.  However, none of it would serve as any type of consolation for not getting it done.

 

Luck

 

It plays a factor, no question.  Luck puts you on the right side of that bad call on May 8th.  Luck means quick healing for Michael Bourn, a level head on Nyjer Morgan in his understudy role, and for overwhelming Spring Training success to translate to regular season prowess for Justin Masterson and Michael Brantley.  It means motivated play in walk years for Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera, the aforementioned need for bounce-back years from Bourn and Swisher, Carlos Santana transitioning smoothly to third base defensively, minimal regression from Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis after solid 2013 seasons, and good work from this bullpen full of new faces.

 

You never want to root for injury, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Max Scherzer and/or Justin Verlander spent some time on the Disabled List.  The same goes for any of the big bats in the American League Central Division, starting with Miguel Cabrera and Billy Butler.  We’re all excited for Danny Salazar, but it’s going to take some luck for him to survive the growing pains of not being quite so over-powering once opposing hitters get a few looks at him in person as the film on him builds up.

 

We want Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister to grow into their roles as regulars in the rotation.  Carlos Carrasco needs to keep his head on straight, and if not, Josh Tomlin will be thrown into the fire.  My high expectations for the team aside, the bar has to be set low for Tomlin who hasn’t pitched in a Major League in some time.  If Trevor Bauer can figure it out to be an effective spot starter at worst, or the second coming of 1997 Jaret Wright at best, we can be very happy in the cold as the floats travel down Euclid Avenue this November.

 

 

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.  In fact, this is going to be my last Sunday column on the site for a while.  More Than A Fan: Cleveland is in very capable hands with the other writers on the site.  Continue to enjoy their brilliance as they take you on the ride to glory with the Tribe while giving you the very best takes on the Cleveland Browns, Cavaliers, and Lake Erie Monsters.

 

Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.  Thanks for reading and stay well.

 

 

 

 

The Indians Have 3-Winged Beast

After losing the Cactus League, Spring Training, opener the Windians have went on a spree winning all five of the games that followed. Sitting at 5-1 in the Cactus League the Indians are looking strong in the important facets of the game. After the pitching in game one I was pretty suspect about what we’d get out of the rest of the rotation (aside from Masterson). Yes, I know, it’s just the first game of Spring Training, but we all like to see our teams do well, especially the team that has the best chance at pulling Cleveland fans’ hearts out of their stomachs!

 

THE KEYS TO SUCCESS ARE WITHIN THE PITCHING

 

I’d like to stick with the pitchers this week and dive a little deeper into why I believe they will be successful. Let’s start with more of  a fun fact  to kick things off:

  • The Indians’ pitching staff has only given up 23 runs in 54 innings (six games). That is less than a half run per inning and the kicker to maintaining a lead or keeping the offense within striking distance. Out of the 30 teams playing, in both the Cactus and Grapefruit League, the Indians’ starters and bullpen have allowed the seventh fewest runs thus far.

That should put the doubters to rest for a short time, but with every critic silenced another emerges. Yes, the three starters (McAllister, Kluber and Salazar) that will fall in line behind Masterson have only combined for 101 starts in a three-year span. Another yes to the fact that neither of the three have had an entire season’s work at one time before, but there’s a first time for everything. At least that’s what I’ve always been told.

 

ARSENAL OF YOUTHFUL ARMS

Danny Salazar

The 23-year old righty packs a mean punch. With a 100 mph fastball I suppose I should have said “a REAL mean punch.” Anyways, ever since his Tommy John surgery in 2010 the Indians have kept his work load light, and rightfully so. After another year passed without problems stemming from the surgery, and with the departures of Ubaldo and Kazmir, I believe the Tribe will stretch Salazar’s workload out.

One of the reasons I’m so excited to see what a full season has in store for Salazar is the fact Cleveland’s coaching staff named him the starter for last year’s Wild Card game against Tampa Bay. I know we didn’t win, but think about what that really says. Salazar is  up-and-coming on the fast track and with only 10 starts last season he managed a 3.12 ERA. I’m looking forward to a similar earned run average in his 2014 campaign even with an increase in innings.

TO BE NOTED: Salazar’s clip of 11.25 K’s per nine innings, in 2013, puts him atop the Indians’ record books for the highest single season rate in club history.

 

salazar

 

Zach McAllister

At the ripe-old age of 26 McAllister is still learning the game and ways to be successful. The right-handed pitcher is undoubtedly a fastball pitcher, but problems with his cutter last year gave him problems. For the 2013 season, he battled the .500 mark ending at 9-9 in 24 appearances with a 3.75 ERA.

However, his perseverance and desire to succeed has me excited to watch the 6’6″ 240 lb’er toe the rubber this season. During the off season, as recommended by the coaching staff, McAllister ditched the cutter for a change of speed in the way of a slider. Thus far in Spring Training he has made two starts, one win, no losses while throwing four innings. During those six outs he has only allowed one hit combined with two strikeouts leaving hitters batting averages at a dismal .077.

 

Corey Kluber

The eldest of the trio, at 27 (soon to be 28), came out of the gates on fire in 2013 as he was in the top 15 American League starters in multiple categories until he injured his finger in August. For the season he registered a 3.85 ERA with a record of 11-5 in 24 total starts.

 

ROUNDUP

Without a doubt the Tribe has greatness in their starters and although they are young, and still learning the little things of the game, they still come out and produce. This is why the Indians did not forfeit a compensatory draft pick that would have allowed them to re-sign Kazmir or Jimenez or go after another big named pitcher. Instead of chasing down and paying big bucks to acquire a new arm, why not stay in your backyard. That says a lot about what kind of potential these three pitchers have.

The trio turned in stats similar to the likes of Jimenez and Kazmir last year. (Yeah the two arms that, ‘just can’t be replaced’..)

The three combined to dominate the postseason push with a lines such as: 22-17 record, 3.70 ERA, 1.28 WHIP as well as 302 K’s in 333 2/3 innings of work. For me, the most important thing to note is that both Kluber and Salazar started the season in Triple-A then advanced to the Big Show while continuing to perform at such a high clip.

I don’t know about the rest of you Indians’ fans, but Monday March 31st cannot come soon enough for me!! It doesn’t matter who toes the rubber this year for our beloved Windians, each arm is more than capable to do what the others can;WIN!!